INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

People of IARC

gibson

Georgina Gibson

A Research Assistant Professor at UAF and IARC since 2009, Georgina Gibson studied Marine Biology and Oceanography at the University of Wales, Bangor and received her PhD in Biological Oceanography from UAF in 2004. Dr. Gibson’s work uses computational modeling to understand and predict changes in marine ecosystems, particularly in organisms at lower trophic levels. Gibson maintains an active service profile as a judge of science competitions at the local and national levels.

Contact Dr. Gibson

What might people find interesting about your current projects?

I’m currently working on two large modeling projects. The first is building and evaluating a lower trophic level ecosystem model for the Bering Sea. This model aims to understand observed changes in the Bering Sea ecosystem, and to make predictions about future conditions, given alternate future climate scenarios.

My work focuses on the juncture between the physical and biological worlds—that is, some of the very lowest trophic levels of the food web, which include phytoplankton (tiny singled celled plants) and zooplankton such as krill. Because these small and abundant species support higher trophic levels (such as fish) and are so immediately sensitive even to slight changes in climatic and physical conditions (sunlight and temperature, for example), they are crucial to understanding the long-term picture of the whole ocean ecosystem.

The model I use here is a Eulerian-type Nutrient-Phytoplankton-Zooplankton (NPZ) model, which predicts ecosystem conditions at set grid points throughout the Bering Sea. Due to the complexities of this ecosystem, this effort is part of a much larger collaborative modeling project that also includes observational scientists and modelers of climate, hydrography, and higher trophic levels.

My other major ongoing project is a modeling study in the Gulf of Alaska, tracking and predicting the behavior and migration patterns of juvenile groundfish, including sablefish, cod, pollock, Pacific ocean perch, and arrowtooth.

As opposed to the Bering Sea model’s Eulerian approach of predicting data at defined grid points, this model employs a Lagrangian view: using observed relationships for biological functions and behavior, it simulates individual “fish,” tracking their life history from eggs in spawning areas to settlement as juveniles.

Using this type of model, we are able to focus on biological and physical factors that are important to groundfish recruitment. A study like this is particularly applicable to the many Alaska fish that are commercially important and have complex life histories and long-term travel patterns.

Have you always been interested in studying the ocean?

My first real interests in school were science and art, but there was a strong effort in the UK at the time to encourage young women to consider science as a career. So I did.

Growing up on the Isle of Wight, a small island in southern England, I was always aware of the water, but my focus in oceanography didn’t really formalize until my undergraduate years, when I nearly drowned during a trip to Mexico. The extreme power of the ocean intrigued me, and I’ve been striving to understand more about it since then, particularly the way that the physics of the ocean affects its biology.

At times, there seems to be an almost unlimited amount of factors to study in my field, but what really drives and excites me are the areas that are understudied and that seem to have the greatest discoveries yet to be made. I think that’s why I and so many other scientists find ourselves focused on Alaska and the Arctic—because the work we’re doing here is so new and can still prove very difficult, there is still so much to learn.

Schematic illustration of the structure and direction of material flow in the BEST-NPZ model developed for the Bering Sea. The model couples a core pelagic model with an ice biology model and a benthic (sea floor) sub-model.
Schematic illustration of the structure and direction of material flow in the BEST-NPZ model developed for the Bering Sea. The model couples a core pelagic model with an ice biology model and a benthic (sea floor) sub-model.
Climatology (1999-2009) of primary production in the upper 100 meters of the Bering Sea, as simulated by the BEST-NPZ model. Note the well-defined area of high production ("Green Belt") along the shelf break.
Climatology (1999-2009) of primary production in the upper 100 meters of the Bering Sea, as simulated by the BEST-NPZ model. Note the well-defined area of high production ("Green Belt") along the shelf break.
Simulated annual Euphausiid (krill) production along the Bering Sea shelf, highlighted in red. Note that in cool years (purple) Euphausiid production increases, while in warm years (pink) it decreases.
Simulated annual Euphausiid (krill) production along the Bering Sea shelf, highlighted in red. Note that in cool years (purple) Euphausiid production increases, while in warm years (pink) it decreases.